J/30 Sailing Review
By Dale Mead
"Anyone who’s had even the briefest exposure to sailboat racing has heard of J/Boats. Ask a racer to list the hottest production racers active today, and they’re sure to Include J/24s and J/35s. Begun in 1977, J/Boats Incorporated, has defied the yacht sales slump with an ever-changing line that threatens to run out of numbers - 18 models through 1991, ranging from 22 to 44 feet.
For 1992, they’ve come out with a J/105 and J/92 (metric measurements equal to 34.5 and 30 feet respectively, opening the door to the European market), both of which have been pushed aggressively as fast, family oriented and very simple to sail. In addition, the J/130, a 42-footer, will debut in October, and a J/60 (feet) is in the advanced planning stage. Is there a length they’ve missed?
While the Johnstones understand that the weekend warrior with bucks to spend on a boat typically needs speed, they also know he’ll spend more time sailing if his family loves it, too. Those parallel concepts were driven home in the late ‘70s when Rod’s wife, Lucia, got tired of capsizing every time they raced dinghies. She refused to race anymore, and he determined to design a boat she and their children could race on -or at least stay on. The result was Ragtime, the prototype J/24, which swept race after race in Eastern competition’
When Johnstone couldn’t get his brother Bob’s employer, Sunfish builder AMF Alcort, to build a production version, the brothers struck out on their own, with Bob’s yacht marketing experience perfectly complementing Rod’s design instincts. They contracted Tillotson Pearson (now TPI Composites, Inc.) as manufacturer, and in 1977, the J/24 first went on sale. It was an instant hit, with 720 boats sold the first year. Having launched a company that performed as well as their first product, the Johnstones had to keep it afloat with new ideas. So in late 1979, Rod moved beyond the daysailer to an overnight version - the J/30.
The Johnstones’ second boat affirmed their philosophy that the family that plays together stays together. Its ample 11’ 2" beam allowed a spacious interior designed for family living, with six-foot headroom at the companionway tapering down to 5’6" at the forward bulkhead. And the Johnstones embellished it attractively with ash woodwork, a cramped but serviceable galley and a semi-enclosed head. The boat also slept six, although it lacked a double settee berth. An optional mid-cabin table also seated six comfortably for meals.
Despite its comfortable appointments, the J/30 was put together as a racer first. The entire fiberglass hull and deck are cored with balsa, with a strong fractional, single-spreader rig, double-foil forestay and lead fin keel for an overall displacement of about 7,000 pounds. The ballast/displacement ratio is a tippy .30, which necessitates the broad beam. The tiller is de-rigeur, and the rudder hangs off the back of the wide, vertical transom, so the boat turns on a dime. Of course, the maneuverability translates into busy steering. Extra crew makes a big difference keeping the boat flat. The side decks are wide enough to do laps around, and sufficiently sloped to be almost flat on the high side when heeled.
In 1984 the Johnstones added a cockpit coaming and lowered the bridge to the cockpit floor, as well as taking out a quarterberth to create a bigger galley, making the boat more yuppie-friendly, if a trace less raceable offshore.
In a reviewing, Practical Sailor summarized the boat this way: "The J/30 Is slab-sided, with little sheer, short overhangs, and little grace. Fortunately, it goes like hell under sail.... She is a boat that inspires confidence. She is a young sailor’s boat, a stepping stone to the big time." Practical Sailor also quoted a 1981 price tag of $35,000 for the 30-footer, which should make current owners feel good; a reasonably maintained used one still goes in the low thirties these days. Sailing the J/30 can be as simple or complicated as you choose. Although a crew of seven is optimal for competitive racing, one experienced and one inexperienced person can handle it easily with the stock rig. Leave the jib down and it sails like a dinghy singlehanded.
On the other end of the spectrum, a killer storm during the 1979 Fastnet confirmed the J/30’s strength. A total of 24 yachts were abandoned and 15 sailors died, but Juggernaut, skippered by Andy Cassel and crewed by Tim Levett, made It unscathed across the Atlantic, despite having to run under bare poles for 14 hours and taking two severe knockdowns. Bill Wallace of Houston, Texas, survived the same storm while delivering J/30 hull #29 to Britain singlehanded. Upon arrival, he was asked by a Yachting World reporter how he and his crew held up under the storm. He sailed alone, he explained. "In what?" asked the reporter. "In that J/30 over there."
Wallace told Bob Johnstone afterward, "The J/30 is the best goddamned sailboat in the world for its Intended purpose. Only once did I get rolled down by a huge wave. And I’ve got coffee stains on the cabin overhead to show that it was 120 degrees."
Long-term sales confirmed the J/30’s market attraction. It established J-Boats as more than a one-product company, and confirmed the Johnstones’ readings of the yachting market. More than 580 J/30s were sold before production ended In 1987. For comparison’s sake, 240 Olson 30s were built, and (so far) 300 J/35s. Some 5,000 J/24s have been sold since 1977.
Ironically, some early owners blamed the decline of the popularity of the J/30 on J/Boats’ introduction in 1982 of the J/29. This was a stripped-out racing version of the same hull with virtually the same rig, a foot-lower deck, and typically no inboard diesel, making It 2,000 pounds lighter. But Bob argued that the strategy actually resurrected J/30 sales, which had virtually stopped. When the J/29 came out, 40 or 50 more J/30s were sold. The speed and price of the J/29s drew people to dealers, he explained, where many bought the J/30 for its more versatile, practical design.
At last count in 1990, the National J/30 Association was more than 250 members strong. It holds its own Nationals every year, and the slickly printed, annual J130 Journal is crammed with fleet news, national results, sailing tips, racing regs and a membership roster.
Unfortunately, the Nationals aren’t about to happen out here. Built in Rhode Island, the vast majority of J/30s are berthed on the East Coast, with the rest scattered In the South, the Great Lakes and out west. Perhaps 10, no more than 15, have found their way to the Bay according to local J/Boats dealer Don Trask, who built J/24s here and almost began production of the J/30s.
The wind here could be a factor, since the boat was designed and built in an area with lighter winds. Competing with the stock 163 percent genoa, spinnaker and spinnaker pole takes a hefty 9 points off the local 141 PHRF rating. But that hasn’t kept owners from racing, both PHRF and one-design. In 1981 Nicholas Molnar of Piedmont bought lone and served as president of the San Francisco Bay J/30 Association, organizing races for roughly 10 active boats, mostly on the San Francisco waterfront. By 1985, he recalls, enough J/30s left the Bay to end one-design races. As Molnar became less active the organization faded. But gradually Paradise Cay on the east side of the Tiburon Peninsula has become the de facto J/30 Fleet Headquarters - thanks largely to Harry Blake, skipper of the killer J/30 Limelight.
As intense a competitor as you’ll find, Harry took delivery of Limelight, hull #51, in Newport, Rhode Island, In 1980 - and has been winning trophies ever since. Perhaps his most prestigious recent win was the 1991 Larry Knight Regatta with Tim Parsons aboard. This year, without a rockstar, Limelight’s regular crew took third in the Larry Knight. Blake has won the Corinthian Midwinters four times, the Golden Gate Midwinters this year - his first time - and the San Francisco YC series twice. Last year he won going up on the Vallejo Race. This year the whole division was DNF the first day; but Harry won the return race, with Break Away second for a one-two J/30 finish. He also took second place in this year’s Big Daddy.
In fact, Blake competes in upwards of 60 or more races per year and wins so consistently that when competitors do finish ahead of him they boast, "We beat Harry!" no matter how they placed.
The Tiburon YC holds several series for members, but makes outsiders feel welcome. In addition, they have several open contests each year including a J/Boat Regatta in the fall where the 30s can count on a one-design start. And the St. Francis Yacht Club hosts an annual J/Fest West, a grueling series of six races in one weekend In the spring when the wind blows hardest.
My wife Janice and I fell in love with our J/30, Break Away, the minute we stepped into the cabin at Trask’s J-Boats West dealership in Alameda in 1989. Unlike every other 30-footer we looked at, it was capacious, not cramped, and finished not in teak but golden ash and pine, with tasteful powder-blue upholstery. On the test drive in gentle winds it responded as briskly as our 23-foot Ericson - wheel-driven 30-footers seemed like slugs by comparison - and covered twice the distance of a Catalina 30 that started out with us. At first we wrote it off as twice what we could afford, but kept going back, even though friends told us we were crazy. One couple, experienced Southern California offshore racers with lots of trophies, respectfully cautioned that It was "too much boat," especially considering our grand total of 10 months owning the 23-footer.
"But if you buy it," the man said after a half-hour warning, "let us know and we’ll be up within two months to sail with you."
Sure enough, we inaugurated BreakAway by taking them to Petaluma for an overnight cruise. Then, without taking off the sleeping bags or pots and pans, we won a beer-can race that same night, beating the 42-foot Centurion Contessa Il to the finish line by half a boatlength. Now that’s exhilaration. (Okay, Contessa did make a few mistakes.)
With much more modest racing ambitions than Harry, we claimed second at the 1991 J/Fest West, first in the ‘91 Silver Eagle, second in TYC’s J/Boat Regatta and, as mentioned, second in this year’s return Vallejo Race. We’ve also done well in a few beer can series, and can even claim we’ve beaten Harry a couple of times.
The track record, the endorsements, the construction and the resale value all speak well for the J/30. But more importantly, most of the J/30s around here are used a lot - for cruising, YRA series racing, specialty races or offshore competitions like the Windjammers. Find a J/30 owner, and chances are he or she has the boat out at least a couple of times a month. That’s the bottom line on the success of a yacht."
Surviving The Fastnet Storm
The story of two J/30’s caught in the middle of yachting’s worst disaster as reported by phone to Bob Johnstone.
"J/30 hull number 10 was shipped to Westerly Marine to serve as a model as they began production in the U.K.. She was named JUGGERNAUT and entered in the Fastnet Race skippered by Andy Cassel and crewed by Tim Levett, project manager from Westerly.
J/30 number 29 was purchased by Bill Wallace from Houston, Texas. She was commissioned in Rhode Island, sailed single handed from Bermuda across to England where she was caught entering the channel during the storm. Bill plans to enter the OSTAR singlehanded trans-Atlantic race next June.
I first heard of the storm when at sea between Cape Ann, MA and Portland, ME on J/30 SLEIGHRIDE. Mary and I were taking her Downeast for the New York Y.C. cruise. The feature news story on Wednesday morning, August 16, was that Ted Turner and other Americans had been lost at sea during a yacht race. Horrified, we listened hourly as the story unfolded. Then concern shifted to the J/30 that was in the race and friends aboard. We didn’t know, thank goodness, that Bill Wallace was there, too.
I talked with Tim by phone. Here are his comments:
"On Monday evening, we were really travelling fast, doing 10.5 knots with the wind at 19 knots apparent, using an 80% spinnaker we’d made specially for the race. There was one reef in the main. And, we were 60-70 miles from Land’s End toward Fastnet Rock."
"At 11:30 PM the wind picked up to 23 knots apparent and we were hitting 12 knots. We dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the No. 2 (140%). Within two minutes we had to go to the No. 3 (105%) with a 2nd reef in the main. Ten minutes after that we went to a 3rd reef, dropping the jib. Then we went to a stormsail and at 1:30 AM Tuesday, we dropped that. The wind was forward of the beam and we couldn’t make way to weather, but we tried to hold the bow at an angle into the waves. That was a mistake. A tremendous wave scooped us up and flipped us on our beams where we were down with mast and spreaders in the water for nearly a minute. I was really scared. But, then the boat flipped up."
"We tried to keep the seas on the aft quarter about 40’ and that seemed to work well. I have never seen such steep seas nor the speed at which they were running. We must have been right on the edge of the continental shelf and we were feared of pitch-poling at any moment. The boat performed well, however, and we experienced only one other bad knock, going over about 90’ at most."
"We survived under bare poles for 14 hours until 2 PM Tuesday. Then the wind lulled to Force 6, but we picked up a forecast of it going up to Force 9 again. We were 25 miles west of the west tip of Wales approaching a lee shore. The St. Georges Channel worried us, yet we had no detail chart of the Irish coast to navigate into a safe harbor which would have been close."
So, we headed out to sea to gain sea-room to weather another blast since it worked the first time. The wind had died to Force 4, when an Irish patrol boat came out and offered us assistance into Dunmore East. We gladly accepted."
"I am absolutely delighted with the way the boat behaved. It is beyond my expectations. I was worried about the transom hung rudder and tiller, but there wasn’t a bit of problem. The main hatch is the best hatch, I’ve ever experienced ... a real engineering marvel. It hardly leaked a drop in spite of green seas crashing on the deck. I’ve recommended that Westerly (U.K.’s largest boatbuilder) convert the hatches on all its models to this design."
We had two problems. First, the casting at the end of the Proctor boom broke, so we lost our gooseneck (U.S. models have Kenyon). And, when we went to start our Petter diesel, there was water in the fuel lines which may have come from a loose fuel intake cap. So, the engine wouldn’t work and we weren’t exactly ready to take it apart. Oh, another thing, the sliding transparent doors over the main berths won’t take much weight of contents behind them if the boat goes 90’."
We didn’t know about Bill Wallace until he called Rod after arriving back in Houston. And, then we heard more from Tim who said that he created a minor stir in England when a reporter from YACHTING WORLD encountered him at the dock among the Fastnet wreckage and asked him what he was doing there ... an obvious question since Bill’s accent and clothing set him apart from the gawkers. "Sailing" was Bill’s reply.
Upon learning that he just got in, the reporter asked how his crew had held up in the storm. Bill replied that he didn’t have a crew but was sailing alone. "In what", asked the reporter. "In that J/30 over there," said Bill. The rest of the story is outlined in a past issue of YACHTING WORLD.
I talked with Bill by phone at his home in Houston. He was reviewing the log of his voyage at the time.
"When the storm hit I was 75 miles WSW of the Bishop and when it let up about 14 hours later, I was 60 miles SW of the Lizard."
"I had six hours warning. You knew it was going to be a bad one. The barometer started plunging and the cloud line on the western horizon was awesome."
"Then when it came, it didn’t hit like a line squall. It built over the period of an hour. My log confirms the same timing as JUGGERNAUT experienced. I was doing 6 knots with 150% genoa, then went to the jib. It takes me 10 minutes to make a sail change ... very deliberate and no more than one jib on deck at a time. I use hanks. It wasn’t long before I dropped the jib and the main."
"The only thing up then was the dodger (factory option) and I was doing 3.5 knots under bare poles with the self-steerer set at 30 degrees to starboard of the wind and seas. I went below in the leeward bunk."
"There was a lot of panic out there. Those people racing haven’t encountered the ocean and what it can be like. Most of them have just been sailing around bays and harbors."
"I’ve got to tell you that the J/30 is the best goddamned sailboat in the world for it’s intended purpose. Only once did I get rolled down by a huge wave. And, I’ve got coffee stains on the cabin overhead to show that it was 120 degrees. I was making coffee on a sea-swing stove attached to the main bulkhead forward of the starboard berth. All the gear stored in the navigator’s shelf to starboard ended up perfectly organized in the flatware shelf to port. The worst of it was, I had stored canned goods behind the main berth to starboard and they all came flying right at me ... putting four gashes in my head."
The dodger was up the entire time without the side curtains. After the knockdown which lasted 30-60 seconds the only damage was a slightly bent bow in the dodger."
……Bill kept coming back to his thoughts and ideas about the boat:
"That icebox is the best icebox on any sailboat anywhere. I kept ice for 11 days. But, you’ve got to get rid of that flip up finger puller.".... We agree, Bill.
"The navigators chart table is perfect. And, I’ve spent many hours working over that table standing and sitting on the quarter berth. The boat is going to be a sensational cruising boat. Not a drop below deck during the storm ... maybe a gallon at most after 14 hours. No, I didn’t have a latch under the sliding companionway. The louvered hatch board let in an occasional bit of spray."
"Tell Harken to get rid of those ring-dings on the mainsheet and vang and use cotter pins. The ring-dings snare and pull out! .....It’s a very dry boat. I never had solid water on the deck. It keeps on top of the waves and only gets hit by foam."
"During the storm, it never got dark. Before daybreak in the middle of a gale, the stars were out then the moon came up. And, it was a brilliant morning ... absolutely magnificent sight ... wild and sparkling."
"We leave on the OSTAR June 6, and hope to see you very early in July, very early! How long will it take to go upwind in a J/30 3000 miles?" -Bob Johnstone
Fitting Out for Extended J/30 Cruising
By Thomas Mitchell
Years ago in a Chicago bar over our last call drinks, my friend suggested we spend the following cold season sailing the Caribbean. Hoots of bitter derision naturally followed, and then quiet. Was it possible? Well, yes ... all we needed was a boat.
I don’t have to tell you she was a J/30. Most people down the Ditch who heard our float plan took one look at the boat and said - you guys are crazy. Well, sure. Connecticut to the Yucatan to the Virgin Islands and up 6,000 miles the wrong way around. Now my tan’s slowly being replaced with freckles of Blue Streak, and the guys at the yard have a kinder view of my sanity. And a pretty solid respect for the strength of J-boats.
Now, it may be heretical to talk cruising to a racing crowd. If you read this newsletter, you own a fast boat. You also own a comfortable, long-range offshore cruiser, with a little work. That’s what this article is about. I won’t bore you with things any boat needs for the blue water - this is just for J/30’s.
Jacklines are mandatory, as there’s no place to clip a harness tether and allow any freedom. Two 23-foot lengths of vinyl-coated 7-strand, nicopressed at one end to the same spring clip and with a clip on each free end, will fit comfortably from the foreguy padeye to the spinnaker block padeyes without interfering with the tackle or requiring additional holes in the deck. Just make sure the pads are adequately backed, and check the size of the clips to make sure they fit freely.
A liferaft, of course. We were not worried about windage and lazarette space was at a premium, so we opted for a deck-mounted canister with a 4-man Avon. It fits nicely on the hatch cover in teak chocks, and there is plenty of clearance above. Make the chocks full width from a good thickness of teak. Through-bolting them is necessary, and can be done with nut and washer stuck on the end of a yardstick with silicone, chewing gum, or whatever. Commercial 24" rubber straps with S hooks bent for quick release hold the raft down tightly, and don’t seem to deteriorate at all.
In keeping with the rest of the interior, the front and sides are made from white maple, the bottom from 3/8" marine ply. The comers can be butt- or miter-joined unless you’re feeling fancy and have a steam box handy. The screws should be countersunk far enough to go 1" into the deck undersides. The depth of the box is up to you, but anything over 4" won’t clear the quarterport if you have one.
Shelving for the main cabin lockers can almost double the useable space, though we left one free for exceptionally tall items. Since the depth and the hull joint of each shelf varies with the locker position, make sure your plane is as sharp as your pencil. You will have to make allowance for interior hull angle and extant furring strips. Getting the shelf in requires removing the locker sides. Remove the maple trim between the lockers, the screws on the inside furring strips, and knock them out with a rubber mallet. Determining the height of the shelf is up to you, but generally the formula 1-Triscuit box plus 1" does the trick, leaving room above for tuna cans, cookies, batteries and so on. No. 2 pine, quarter-round or planed molding and simple molding fiddle boards complete the job. Varnish, and screw it an together again. It’s easier than it sounds and really makes a difference.
Everyone has his own ideas about garbage, but anything that won’t (or shouldn’t) clear the helmsman and the backstay needs a place. This light canvas and elastic bag has a big appetite and holds standard "tall kitchen" liners. It’s also easier on the chef’s knees on a starboard tack. The top is elasticized all the way around (I used leftover shock cord.) the turn buttons should be fastened to the door to provide enough stretch so that the top will snap shut. The finished bag measures approximately 24"L x 18"W.
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The chef’s tools of the trade likewise deserve a place unto themselves. This doweled pine box screws in on the aft side of the galley unit and is shallow enough not to interfere with whatever’s in the quarterberth. It measures 4"D x 10"L x 12"W.
We bought a good set of plastic dishes and bowls for the trip, only to find that they wouldn’t fit in their allotted spaces behind the stove. Instead of taking them back, I rebuilt the shelf. Removing the old shelf with screwdriver and mallet, the bottom provides a convenient template for tracing out on a new sheet of 3/8" marine ply. The shelf can only extend in width beyond the stove aft, but the extra three inches provides a lot more space. With white maple sides, miter-joined, and diagonal divisions for long steak knives, everything eventually found its own place.
There are plenty of other space-saving alterations that can be done for your J/30. Split cedar rings of the type used for lobster traps will hold towels along the aft head wall, when hung with short leather straps. They’re more forgiving on the skull than hooks. The forward cabin cubbies work better with pine dividers, and stop your socks from walking around. Nylon tube net stretched from the aft end of the belowdecks grabrails to drilled holes in the galley or nav station trim, tied in half and fitted with cedar rings, will hold plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Dropping and hauling the hook was made simpler with the addition of a hawsepipe with cap located forward of the bow cleat. Once I’d gathered the courage to saw a gaping hole in the deck, the rest was easy. Siliconed and throughbolted, the pipe would feed 200’ of rode easily in or out, coiling itself in the fo’c’sle locker without a kink. We carried three anchors, three 200’ rodes and 60’ of chain - worth more for the peace of mind than any insurance policy.
There were times when we just couldn’t get high enough to get a good look at the horizon. After a few laughs about putting ratlines on a J/30, we hit on a compromise. A 12 inch length of 2" x 2" teak, notched at both ends to fit the shrouds, lashed in place high enough to give one great step up from the cabin top, gave us one hell of a view even in pitchy weather. The lookout could see coral heads from some distance, and still hold a beer with one hand.
There are plenty of other easy changes, only left to your imagination, that will make a J/30 a very livable boat indeed. The Formica chart table is perfect for laminating on the chart of your choice. Maybe one of the Caribbean?
Note about the author:
Six months and over six thousand miles later, MIDNIGHT DECISION reappeared in Stonington Harbor. The itinerary included St. Petersburg, Key West, an unplanned and involuntary stop in Cuba, on to Cancun, Mexico, then the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and back up the waterway. The boat and its crew came through the adventure without a scratch, but not without some good yams to spin. Mitchell and his compatriots were all in their twenties at the time of the cruise.